Mitchell Smette decided to run for Boys State Governor during his first hours on the North Dakota State College of Science campus in Wahpeton.
"I'm competitive," said Smette, who doesn't like to do something unless he can be the very best at it. He's been a starter every season on the football team at TGU-Granville, though he's currently recovering from an injury suffered at football camp earlier this summer. His competitive nature served the soon to be TGU-Granville High School senior well. He didn't know any of the other teens when he went to the week-long government camp sponsored by the American Legion, but he knew every name and every face by the time he left.
"By the end of the camp, my hands were sore from shaking everyone's hands," said Smette.
Andrea Johnson/MDN •
Mitchell Smette, a soon to be senior at TGU-Granville High School, will represent North Dakota at Boys Nation later this month. He was elected Boys State Governor during Boys State at North Dakota College of Science at Wahpeton in June.
The boys were split into two political "parties" and conducted different exercises designed to teach them about city, county and state governmental processes. The boys in his city were given disaster training exercises and asked to deal with things such as a terrorist attack or a flood with limited resources.
The race for governor took most of the week. As with any political contest in the real world, Smette discovered that winning requires an equal dose of charm and smarts.
Smette got everyone's attention with an answer to a pop culture question. The other guys asked him which he likes better: girls with red hair or girls with pure black hair.
The "Spiderman" fan responded that Kirsten Dunst's performance as Mary Jane in the "Spiderman" movies made him appreciate redheads.
But the guys also asked him more substantive questions, right from the get go.
"I was expecting it to be a popularity contest," said Smette. "It wasn't."
Candidates were vetted based on their opinions on real topics: the war in Iraq, rising gas prices, and other issues of the day. Smette, who leans Republican, said he bases his opinions on the Republican position on the war. One of his cousins, Keith Smette, was killed while serving in Iraq and another cousin served with him. His sister's longtime boyfriend is also serving overseas. During Boys State, Smette came up with a mock bill that would require war protesters to get permission from a dead soldier's family before using a dead soldier's name or image on protest materials. Keith Smette's name and image have been used by war protesters and Smette thinks that just isn't right.
"It drives me crazy," said Smette, who believes it's important to him to support soldiers while they are serving, regardless of what people think about the war itself.
Several of the other boys at Boys State held far more liberal positions, which made for lively debates. Smette said he respects people who take a stand on an issue and have supporting arguments, even when he disagrees with what he had to say.
Strong preparation also helped him do well at Boys State.
"Everyone else got free time," said Smette. "I didn't."
He was too busy meeting and greeting people, spending hours researching issues and preparing for upcoming speeches and debates, calling his grandfather, Myron Smette, to get his input on different issues. The newspaper put out by the boys at Boys State noted that Smette "must be lying because I had an answer for everything." Smette said he had all those answers during his debates and speeches because he spent three hours researching what he was going to say. Smette said he didn't eat more than a few bites during the week of Boys State because he kept so busy and that he probably lost about 10 pounds.
Smette and his opponent were interviewed on the Joel Heitkamp radio show and had a debate broadcast. Smette said he listens to Heitkamp's show during his breaks from work at Lowe's Garden Center and was excited to meet Heitkamp. He likes the show and has a lot of respect for Heitkamp, even though he's a pretty strong Democrat, said Smette.
"I wasn't expecting to win," said Smette, who said his opponents were absolutely brilliant. He learned a lot from talking with all of them and made some good friends during his week at Boys State.
He'll represent North Dakota at Boys Nation later this month. He can't wait to see all of the historical monuments and sites in Washington, D.C. He doesn't know if he'll have a chance to meet the president or not, but would love to shake President Bush's hand.
Smette has always been interested in history and politics, but he said attending Boys State definitely took his interest up a bit. He's already spoken to a few American Legion groups and will probably be doing more public speaking at schools this year to encourage wider attendance at next year's Boys State. The numbers have been declining and the American Legion hopes to get more high school juniors interested in participating.
"It's definitely worth it, " said Smette.
He received a gold watch with his name engraved on it, just like every other Boys State governor. The man Smette received his from had been Boys State governor nearly 60 years ago. He told the boys at Boys State that he passed down his gold watch to his son.
Smette said he hadn't realized what a big deal Boys State is when he first went, but now it means a lot to him. It will open some doors for him, particularly if he wants to become a public speaker or go into politics later on.
Smette said he plans to major in communications and also pick up some political science courses in college. He'll be touring colleges out of state in August, but wants to come back to North Dakota eventually. He doesn't rule out politics, though he hasn't definitely made up his mind.
(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or Managing Editor Kent Olson at 857-1939. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.)